Archive for November, 2010

Know Your Sentences

November 29, 2010

Hey, hey friendly (and busy) Mills students. I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday, because now it’s back to the grind. Since I know all of you are busy cramming for finals and writing those last minute papers, I thought I would give you guys some brief notes on sentences to help you out. Note that this is an adaptation of worksheet created by Diana Turken and me!

Good Luck and I hope this helps!


Terms To Know:

Clause: contains a subject and a verb

Subordinate Conjunction: a word or phrase that connects two clauses

Examples: after, that, though, even if, unless, until, for, when

Relative Pronoun: relates a dependent clause to the main clause

Examples: that, which, who, whom, whose

Coordinator: connects related clauses that are equally important to the sentence

Examples: and, but, or, nor, for, yet

Independent Clause: contains subject, verb, and is able to stand alone as a sentence.

Subordinate/Dependent Clause: contains a relative pronoun or a subordinate conjunction, subject, and verb; cannot stand alone


Types of Sentences
There are three main types of sentences that we typically when writing an essay. These include simple, compound, and complex sentences. Understanding the difference in each of these sentences allows us to use them more effectively.

Simple Sentence: contains a subject, and a verb or relative pronoun. It expresses a complete thought.

Example: Julie finished her homework in five minutes.

Compound Sentence: contains two independent clauses, which are joined by a coordinator. The coordinators typically come after a comma.


Example: Julie finished her essay, and I finished my lab report.
Complex Sentence: contains an independent clause, joined by one or more dependent clauses that are linked by subordinators or relative pronouns.


Example: When Julie wrote her essay, she failed to cite her sources.


Thesis in an Academic Paper

November 12, 2010

Hey All! Today we are going to tackle one of the most challenging aspects of a persuasive, academic essay: the thesis!

We gathered some of our exceptional writing tutors and asked them to describe a thesis statement:

“I like to think of it as the lens you look through; not only the object that you are describing, but the way that you are describing it,” said Mimi.

“Argument and stakes. The stakes are why should we care. That is how I like to think of it,” attributed Maddie.

“An essay is a map through the thoughts of the author; the thesis statement is the first step into the wild—be specific, you are our trustworthy guide.” Kate.

“Everything in the body should connect back to the thesis. If it does not, you probably don’t need it.”-Sir Elwin Cotman

And, to add my personal montra, “The thesis is the roadmap to your essay. It should guide the reader through.”

Now that we have some ideas to work off of, let’s explore the thesis a bit more. The purpose of a thesis in an academic paper, as shown above, can be described in many different ways. Technically speaking, a thesis statement is usually one or two sentences that appear at the end of the introductory paragraph. It expresses your argument for the paper, and what points you are going to address to prove that argument: how, why and context.

Remember that as you brainstorm and come up with your first thesis statement, it is okay to revise it. As a matter of fact, you should expect to revise it. Your working thesis—the thesis that appears in the rough draft of your paper—is just a preliminary brainstorm or outline to the finished product. Make sure that your final thesis statement makes an argument, demonstrates some of the ways you are going to defend it, and, most importantly, that the entire statement is supported by a strong essay. If not, you should consider revising it to fit the essay itself.

For more ideas, stop by the writing center! We are always happy to help you brainstorm!

If you need something online, check out this helpful site that I found!

Academic Writing: Style Concerns

November 8, 2010


“The point in academic writing is not to sound intelligent but to get your intelligent point across.”

Hello Students,

This post is about writing style, which is quite possibly the most exciting aspect of writing itself!

Did you know that you don’t have to agree with everything that you read?  College is an opportune time to think critically and to engage in respectful, constructive dialogue with your peers and faculty.  A great way to begin the process of active learning is to hone and develop a writing style specific to your field of study.

Academic writing is a distinct style of writing–a tool that you can use to confront, challenge and contribute to [written] discourse with peers and faculty.

When you approach your paper…

 Ask yourself: what is my goal in writing this essay? Is it to INFORM, PERSUADE or perhaps ENTERTAIN?

Style is subjective. Who is your audience? How might an English paper differ from a Biology paper, a news article, or a short story?


Levels of Formality: Writing in a style that your audience expects and that fits your purpose is key to successful writing.

In-Group Jargon: Jargon refers to specialized language used by groups of like-minded individuals. Only use in-group jargon when you are writing for members of that group. You should never use jargon for a general audience without first explaining it.

Slang and idiomatic expressions: Avoid using slang or idiomatic expressions in general academic writing.

Biased language: Avoid using any biased language including language with a racial, ethnic, group, or gender bias or language that is stereotypical.

(The previous explanations can be found on

Wordiness and Word Choice

Avoid using more words than necessary to get your point across.  Sometimes the page limit of a paper feels daunting.  You may be tempted to add lots of filler words, but you professor knows when you are not engaged with the assignment.   Be clear and concise—choose your words wisely.  Some words are too casual for an academic paper, others are out of context.  Avoid using a big word with the intent of impressing your professor if you’re unsure about its definition. 

Remember: Editing is an art in itself! 

 Passive vs. Active Voice

Passive Voice tends to make vague sentences.  When writing in passive voice, it’s easy to lose the subject of the sentence entirely.  For example, “the cake is loved.”  But who loves the cake?

Passive voice just sounds passive!

Passive voice tends to be wordy.  Notice how “sally loves cake” is a three word sentence, and “the cake is loved by Sally” is a six word sentence!

 *Scientific writing tends to prefer passive voice, so keep in mind your academic audience. 

Active Voice

In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. 

Ex. Sally loves cake.

Sally is the subject, and she is actively loving the cake.  Notice that the object of the action (“cake”) is hanging out at the end of the sentence.

Passive Voice

In passive sentences, the object of the action is moved to the beginning of the sentence where the subject usually hangs out.

Ex. The cake is loving Sally.

The subject is now the cake, but the cake isn’t actively doing anything.  Instead, it’s just passively being cake.

It always helps to have someone—besides yourself—take a look at your essay!


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